Congratulations! You and your merry band of miscreants have made the great pilgrimage to Austin for one of the greatest race weekends on the planet: the Formula One United States Grand Prix. But what’s the best way to enjoy it, and what do you do after the track goes cold? We’re here to help.
Fortunately for you, our editors keep me chained to a ran-when-parked Mitsubishi Lancer somewhere in north central Austin unless they’re feeling nice that day, so I am intimately familiar with keeping myself amused in this city. It’s a long chain that lets me go all the way to San Marcos, but I haven’t quite figured out how to gnaw through it yet. Help?
This weekend is one where I don’t want to gnaw through that chain, however, as it brings a lot of the right people directly to me. Car people. Owners of ridiculous project cars. Drivers of rare, odd and interesting metal. Walking encyclopedias of F1 nerdery. People who understand my bad car jokes.
This is the sixth year the United States Grand Prix has been running at Circuit of the Americas, and my sixth year at this weekend. This year sounds like it could be an epic race.
There’s a small chance of rain that could shake things up, but more importantly, more cars are competitive this year. Sure, it’s the usual handful up front—Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes—but Mercedes driver and championship leader Lewis Hamilton will probably have to work for it if he wants to win here.
But how do you, mere mortal, make the most of the race and this weekend? We’re here to help.
Leave Early To Avoid Our Garbage Traffic
Terrible Austin traffic is not just a possibility. It is a way of life. Formula One falls on the weekend of a University of Texas home football game yet again this year, so you can’t even bet that the roads will be less crowded on the weekend. Our roads were woefully inadequate when I moved here six years ago, and they haven’t been significantly expanded since.
Last year’s Formula One race set an attendance record of 269,889 people over all three days, per the track’s own figures published in the Austin American-Statesman. Its worst year here—the rain-soaked 2015 race—still saw 224,011 people come out to the track.
You really don’t want to be stuck in two Wacos worth of humans in cars on the narrow, overloaded roads close to the track. Fortunately, our crappy traffic is manageable for those of us who couldn’t afford to charter a helicopter into the track.
Leave early if you’re parking on-site. Circuit of the Americas’ lots next to the track are sold out, so you’ll have a lot of company when you come in for race days. The best way to manage that is to get here early and stay late. If you have a spot at or close to the track, please—for the sake of everyone else’s sanity—carpool if you can.
These lots open at 7:00 a.m. and around that’s honestly not a bad time to leave if you want to make it in for the 8:45 a.m. Formula 4 practice session tomorrow with time to walk in, pick a good vantage point and get comfy, for example. Traffic only gets heavier as the morning goes on. Leaving after 10:00 a.m. or so on Sunday will toss you into the deepest circle of traffic hell.
There are informal parking lots in neighboring yards that you can park in, but my same advice applies there: get there early or you will miss part of the action.
The least stressful way I’ve ever gotten to the track, however, was by parking at a remote lot and taking a shuttle in. Shuttles from downtown or the Travis County Expo Center start at $15 when purchased in advance, or $20 if paid in person. Spots in a closer park and ride location called “Lot Q” are also available for $40. The buses are pleasant and clean in my experience, and they drop you off right there at the track.
If you are driving around Austin to get to the track, explore or forage for sustenance, Waze is a Godsend for navigating through rush hour and other periods of terrible traffic.
If you’re not in any condition to drive, both taxis as well as the usual ride-hailing apps (including Uber and Lyft now) serve the area. Conveniently, we profiled Austin’s oddly prolific ride-hailing app-o-sphere here a while ago, and even the smaller companies’ apps seem to work fine now that they’ve been established a while.
Dress For A Good Hike And Explore The Track
So, you have sweet seats at Turn 15, or the main grandstand? Nice! You should get up and leave them for a while if you can.
Circuit of the Americas has far too many excellent viewpoints to only sit in one seat all weekend. Turn One is famous as cars speed directly into a hairpin up a steep hill right at the start. It, along with the Turn 16-18 berm, offer an incredible view of a large chunk of the track.
The Turn 3-5 esses are cool, too, as you get to hear the unreal growly sounds Formula One cars make off-throttle. We’ve got historics running as a support race, so that’s where I’d love to be for that.
The Turn 12 and Turn 15 grandstands are popular for a reason: you get to see cars slow down from the circuit’s fastest, longest straight into the relatively tight Turn 12, and then see the cars dance through a complex of several tighter turns.
These are all my opinions, though. You should go exploring and find your own favorite spots based on what you like to watch. Bring good shoes, and wearable, non-umbrella rain gear just in case. I refuse to tell you to bring an umbrella because I hate it when people block my view with an umbrella, and a simple rain jacket or poncho is much easier for navigating big crowds anyway.
F1 is probably my favorite crowd that comes to COTA. Everyone’s ridiculously friendly, and while there’s a lot of people crammed into every possible section of the track, you’ll see all manner of crazy hats, good signs, fun shirts and the like along the way. You’ll probably even get the occasional high-five.
Bonus: you can scope out where the good toilets are with a good walk around. It’s hard to find a good place to drop a deuce when things get busy, so that is more vital information than you’d think.
Do All The Fun Things
Formula One week isn’t just a race with some support races—there’s concerts, meet-ups, and even a new go-kart track right outside the track. You should try a little bit of all of it, because it’s fun, that’s why.
One of the best public parties of the weekend is actually Thursday night, before the weekend action really gets going. The Buxton Bash—a night hosted by pit lane reporter Will Buxton—started at 7:00 p.m. at Clearport ATX, and it always features several drivers and other F1 personalities, plus there’s a giveaway for cool stuff. It’s $10 to get in, but all proceeds go to the Austin chapter of the Susan G. Komen Foundation. More information can be found here.
We’re also hosting our own meet-up Friday night at 8:00 p.m. night at the Jackalope South Shore. Come ride a large horned rabbit with us and regale us with great tales of project beaters. More details are here.
The track will host a ton of concerts at stages on-site this year, with a full list of performers available here. Justin Timberlake and Stevie wonder as this year’s two major on-track, post-raceday concerts, of course.
There’s also a few good amusements next to the track as well. Topgolf set up a hit-balls-into-targets course outside Turn 1, which we got to try out today and is a blast. It’s $65 per person, but you get to whack balls off the top of one of F1's most infamous hills. We got to see the infamously ballsy F1 broadcast helicopter pilot practice angling in to shoot the race from up there, and it was pretty cool.
Slightly more Jalop (as Topgolf is cool but foregoes the use of golf carts) is the addition of a go-kart track outside the main grandstand. You have to book it ahead of time here, but it’s $30 per person for 10 minutes of hoon-time. This is the kart track’s first weekend of operation ever, so that pavement is still delightfully smooth and the karts haven’t been beat to snot.
Eat Well Or You’re Doing It Wrong
I daresay that Central Texas has raised the humble taco to an art form. Our food here away from the track (as well as at some of the local food trailers who set up shop at the track) is good. You should skip the mass-produced familiarity of Chili’s or McDonald’s for some good local eats and drinks.
That being said, you’re probably not going to get into Franklin Barbecue or any of the other ultra-hyped restaurants this weekend. Lines are even longer than usual thanks to F1 and UT, plus many of the hella trendy barbecue joints are only open for lunch, anyway.
Our rundown of less-hyped joints we recommend for food and drinks from last year actually aged well, so instead of retyping the whole thing, I’m just gonna quote it here with a few minor updates:
- Mexican: Papalote, La Mexicana on S. 1st, Enchiladas y Mas. Torchy’s and Tacodeli are local chains with locations everywhere if you’d rather try fancy Tex-Mex tacos. Drive through El Tacorrido if you need tacos and an espresso shot dropped in a glass of horchata. (Sleep is for the weak.)
- Tex-Breakfast: Cisco’s for a solid mix of Tex-Mex and greasy spoonage. Editor Patrick George swears by Mi Madre’s also.
- No one can decide what they want (and/or more breakfast): Kerbey Lane and Magnolia Café have locations all over. Pick one. They have everything. The lines at the latter on South Congress Ave. are rough on a good weekend. Maybe try another one.
- Pizza: Via 313 for mind-blowing deep-dish Detroit-style pizza. Little Deli for thinner crusts.
- Coffee: Caffe Medici and Houndstooth Coffee produce some of the most velvety smooth lattés I’ve had in the world.
- Asian: Ramen Tatsuya, Michi Ramen or basically anywhere in the Chinatown Center on North Lamar.
- Bar food: Crown and Anchor (get the cheeseburger). Another Jalopnik staff favorite nearby is Posse East.
- Barbecue that’s actually open after F1 is done: Freedmen’s will still probably have a wait, but it’s my favorite brisket, so I’m listing it anyway. Stiles Switch, Black’s and Terry Black’s (different places, same name, long story) also stay open late and have thus far not attracted as large of a rabid following as everywhere else.
- Cannot Into Meat: Counter Culture, Bouldin Creek Coffeehouse.
- Ice cream: Amy’s Ice Creams is the local standby, and never does wrong. Sweet Ritual for the vegan variety. Prohibition Creamery if you’d like to add booze in your ice cream. Hi, Kimi!
Most of those places are closer to downtown, and anything closer to hotels or downtown will be crammed. Urbanspoon and Yelp are good tools for finding tasty treats if you’re staying further away.
If you want to go out for drinks afterwards, this is one of the few times where I love to go to tourist-heavy spots like Rainey Street and the main “Dirty Sixth” stretch of Sixth Street. The people-watching alone—especially on Dirty Sixth, which closes down and goes pedestrian-only late at night—is phenomenal.
You’re surrounded by car people who’ve arrived en masse and are there to party. Our people. Bonus points if you catch Mercedes jamming out at the dueling piano bar.
There is no single reason to spend any portion of the day bored this year during F1 weekend. Go forth, stuffed full of tacos and make the most of your time here in town.